THE GROUCHY CULTURAL REVIEWS
In Jason Zinoman’s book about the modern horror film, Shock Value, he discusses “the monster problem” – how directors try to resolve the fact that, at some point, audiences expect to stop anticipating something scary (the monster) and actually see something scary. I kept thinking of this while watching Europa Report, a science-fiction thriller about six astronaut/scientists seeking signs of life on Europa, a moon of Jupiter.
Unlike, say Aliens, Europa Report is a low-budget affair, and so I half expected director Sebastian Cordero to resolve his monster problem with a disappointing and cheap-looking, well, monster. He does not. Cordero’s movie is too smart for that; yet the climax of the film is still a bit of a letdown.
The Good: 1) Given the film’s budgetary limitations (or possibly because of them), the visuals on Europa are pretty cool. 2) The script makes use of actual science, rather than side-stepping it. 3) There are no clichéd subplots involving romance among crew members, or evil corporations out to sabotage the mission. 4) Cordero creates an eerie, claustrophobic mood and traps us there.
Maybe you have to be younger than I am to get incensed over a documentary like Park Avenue. At a certain point in life, some of us simply shrug and conclude: “Nothing ever changes. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. I might as well go watch a football game.”
However … if you are young – or if you still have fire in your middle-aged belly – it’s hard to disagree with this New York Times assessment of Alex Gibney’s indictment of the wealthy: “If you were still on the fence about whether to despise the superrich, this film will almost surely make a hater out of you.”
Gibney opens his film by contrasting the two bookends of New York’s famous avenue, divided in two by the Harlem River: the luxurious Manhattan side, home to the largest collection of billionaires in America, and the side located in the Bronx, where infant mortality is high and poverty is rampant. If America is the richest nation on Earth, why such income disparity?
Gibney doesn’t focus on the poor; he targets the super-wealthy and their disproportionate political influence. As he wrote for The Huffington Post: “[Park Avenue] is an intentionally angry film. I felt that the contribution of this film could be a kind of focused rage against the dying of the light of the American Dream, slowly being extinguished by a flood of money.”
That money comes from left and right, politically (Democrat Chuck Schumer comes off just as corrupt as anyone else in the film), but Gibney’s primary culprits are conservative – in particular the billionaire Koch brothers (David Koch pictured below).
I was curious about the impact of this film, which aired on PBS late last year and is now available on Netflix. Park Avenue has one review on Rotten Tomatoes. The article that Gibney penned for The Huffington Post to accompany the film’s premiere generated a meager 15 comments. If the movie made any money, the numbers are not listed on Wikipedia, which generally includes that type of information for films. All of this must make the Koch brothers very happy.So go ahead, youngsters, harness your rage to save the American Dream. If it looks like you’re making any progress in that war, I might even tear myself away from football to help you out. Grade: A
But mostly this is a thriller, and a good one at that. Grade: B+
Meanwhile, if you like train movies, this one is a treat. Filmed in Lithuania, Beijing, and Russia, the passing scenery is often a series of picture postcards from hell: cold, barren landscapes; toothless, miserable villagers; and, just to break up all that dreariness, an occasional breath-taking sight, such as the sparkling ruins of a church buried in snow (along with a body or two).
Despite what the trailer trumpets (“The most intellectually stimulating movie of the year!”), there’s no question that H.O.T.S. is a dumb movie. But it knows that’s it’s a dumb movie – and it doesn’t really care. Neither do I.
By today’s standards – hell, even by 1979 standards – H.O.T.S. is a sexist, juvenile, exploitive piece of junk. And that’s why I like it. It doesn’t apologize for existing; it knows that a large segment of the audience will dismiss it, but it isn’t pandering to all segments of the audience. It’s pandering to me, damn it. You go watch your Magic Mike; some of us prefer this.
So what, exactly, is this 1970s relic? It’s: 1) A low-budget rip-off of the previous year’s comedy smash, Animal House; 2) An attempt to lure sex-crazed males by showcasing boobs, boobs, and an occasional butt; 3) The precursor to a slew of 1980s T&A crap (it predates Porky’s); 4) A good-hearted, lame-brained waste of 95 minutes; 5) An attempt to lure sex-crazed males by showcasing boobs, boobs, and an occasional butt.
Danny Bonaduce, above, with Angela Aames and Lisa London.
Oddly, H.O.T.S. was penned by two women, including B-movie queen Cheri Caffaro (Ginger). Refreshingly, the voluptuous actresses on display, including a bevy of Playboy Playmates, seem to be in on the jokes, no matter how lame they are.
K.C. Winkler demonstrates method acting.
So why should you waste time watching this nonsense, or even see it more than once like, ahem, some of us have? 1) It stars post-Partridge Family, pre-radio host Danny Bonaduce, one of the few actors in the cast who can handle the dialogue, no matter how lame it is. 2) The “plot,” some folderol about competing sororities, includes a pet seal, a drunken bear, topless parachuting, and awful 1970s fashion and music. 3) Susan Kiger’s boobs, K.C. Winkler’s ass, Lindsay Bloom’s boobs, and … first and foremost, the greatest strip-football game ever to grace the silver screen. Grade: B
K.C. Winkler, method acting again.
Angela Aames makes a splash; Lindsay Bloom makes a pass.
Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron’s nail-biter about two astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) who are quite literally lost in space after satellite debris pummels their mother ship. The astronauts, in the middle of repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope when disaster strikes, must somehow save themselves. That’s the plot. The story goes from plausible to silly to utterly ridiculous in 90 minutes.
I believe that, for example, in 30 years Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey will still be considered a classic – a perplexing classic, sure, but nevertheless a classic. I also think Apollo 13 will still entertain. Ditto for Marooned, a mostly forgotten 1969 thriller about astronauts stuck in space. On the other hand, there are plenty of old science-fiction movies which, although impressive at the time of their release, now seem laughably dated. Which brings me to …
Is it possible that someone at the Random House editorial department has a vendetta against Pessl? That’s the only explanation I can think of for the bizarre proliferation of italics in her book. You eventually get used to it, but the infestation of italicized words in every other paragraph is, initially, a major distraction.In other respects, Pessl’s thriller is a mixed bag. Her plot is imaginative: An investigative reporter hunts a mysterious cult-filmmaker named Cordova, whose young daughter kills herself by leaping down an elevator shaft. But there are stretches of Night Film that are so poorly written – so illogical or overwrought – that at times it resembles an earnest high-school student’s essay for English class. A typical simile from page 205: “The woman’s small black eyes swarmed it like flies over a turd.” I’m not sure why they failed to italicize “turd.”